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Who was Thomas Chippendale?

Updated on January 2, 2017

Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), English furniture designer and cabinetmaker, whose name became identified with the style of furniture popularized by his book The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director... Chippendale's name is generally associated with furniture in the rococo taste- carved and asymmetrical with cabri­ole legs. This is the style he termed "French," drawn in part from Louis XV designs. But Chip­pendale also drew heavily from many design sources, including Gothic, Chinese, and neoclassic. The influence of his book gave rise to further variations of his style, such as Irish Chippendale and American Chippendale.

Life

Chippendale was born about 1718 at Otley, Yorkshire, the descendant of a family of joiners and cabinetmakers. He served his ap­prenticeship under his father, who about 1727 moved the family business to London. Shortly after his marriage to Catherine Renshaw in 1748, Thomas Chippendale opened his own cabinet-making shop in Conduit Lane. In 1753 he moved to 60 St. Martin's Lane, a center of furniture making in London, where he remained thereafter.

In his shop, which probably was not so large as the shops of several competitors, Chippendale employed craftsmen for every branch of the busi­ness. He formed a partnership with James Ranni that lasted until Ranni's death in 1766. In 1779 he took another partner, Thomas Haig, who, after Chippendale's death in 1779, con­tinued the business with Chippendale's son.

The Director

Chippendale's greatest contri­bution to furniture design, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, was first published in London in 1754. A second edition appeared in 1759, a third, revised and enlarged edition, was published in 1762.

The publication of The Director did more than stimulate a vogue for furniture in the rococo manner. The book eventually was used by cab­inetmakers throughout England, and started a competition to further elaborate Chippendale's fanciful designs. Its influence spread far beyond the British Isles. A particularly successful and florid version of the style flourished in Portugal, and Irish and American cabinetmakers evolved distinctive variations of the Chippendale style.

Chippendale's Work

Bills and correspondence from Chippendale's shop are almost the only means of authenticating pieces from Chippen­dale's own firm. He had many important clients, including the Duke of Atholl, the Duke of Port­land, the Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Dumfries. It is curious that some of the best furniture that can be definitely ascribed to Chippendale is not in the rococo taste of The Director but rather in the neoclassical taste of the Adam style. This includes the furniture made between 1766 and 1770 for Harewood House, Yorkshire, for Sir Edwin Lascelles.

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